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SATURDAY HOMILY: Jesus, rid us of the filth of sin!

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The Presentation of the Lord and the Crisis in Los Angeles

Today is a good day to pray for the Church -- for all her members: bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful -- that our minds will be made pure.

LONG BEACH, CA (Catholic Online) - The crisis of sexual abuse of minors by priests has once again riveted the attention of the nation and the world on the Catholic Church in Los Angeles. The recent release of the confidential files of priests who sexually abused children while serving in the Archdiocese has reopened a painful and festering wound that will not go away.
 
Two days ago in a letter written to all Catholics of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Archbishop José H. Gomez, wrote:
 
"These files document abuses that happened decades ago. But that does not make them less serious. I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed."
 
It is a relief to hear an archbishop speak about this sickening reality with such candor and clarity. Instead of making excuses ("We didn't know how serious this was") or attempting to explain it away ("Our way of dealing with these cases has evolved"), Archbishop Gomez says it like it is. No psychobabble. No more euphemistic talk of "boundary violations."  He says plainly: "I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you.'

These actions on the part of men who were called to be spiritual fathers are the gravest of sins which cry out to heaven for redress. So many children robbed of their innocence! So many broken people whose simple faith in God and their ability to trust in others shattered! For too many, both victims and non-victims, these heinous actions of priests have permanently marred the beauty of Christ's spotless bride.

March 25, 2005, was Good Friday. Blessed John Paul II was nearing the summit of his own Calvary. In exactly one week and a day, he would cross the threshold of the Father's house and his momentous papacy would come to an end.

On previous Good Fridays, when he was younger and healthier, Pope John Paul would lead the faithful in the praying of the Stations of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum. He would even carry by himself a large, heavy cross from station to station. But on Good Friday 2005, his last, this was not possible.

He stayed at the Vatican and from his private chapel he watched and prayed via television while the then Cardinal Ratzinger lead the Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum.  Cardinal Ratzinger not only led the Stations, he composed the meditations.

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One of those meditations, at least for me, really stands out. It did the first time I read it and it continues to do so. It's from the Ninth Station, Jesus Falls the Third Time. Ratzinger begins the meditation with the question: What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? Then the answer:

"We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church?"

"How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words!"

And then comes the clincher:

"How much filth there is in the Church!"

FILTH. It is a gritty, grungy, grimy word.

He's obviously not talking about poorly maintained churches! He's referring to moral filth, moral corruption, a kind of moral rot which afflicts the members of the body of Christ.

"How much filth there is in the Church!"

The statement is startling not because it reveals something we do not know. From the beginning of the Church and throughout her 2000 year history there has always been immorality--at times more, at other times less.

What is startling about this declaration is what follows it.

"How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!"

He continues:

"How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison.  Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25)."

The crisis of the the sexual abuse of children has its roots in sin, in the personal sins of men who surrender to the darkest inclinations of the human heart. Why bishops and other Church officials failed to grasp this completely, I cannot say.  What no one can claim is that they were not warned.

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Father Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of the Paraclete Fathers, repeatedly sounded the warning about priests who violate the innocence of children. In the starkest of terms he wrote in 1957:

"These men, Your Excellency, are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization."

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord when we commemorate that moment when the Immaculate Ever-Virgin Mary, accompanied by her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph, brought the sinless Son of God to the temple to present Him to the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI explains in his new book on the infancy narratives that the word that is used for "present" in the Gospel account of the Presentation is parastanai which also means to offer in the way that sacrifices in the temple were offered.

Our Lady, fully cooperating with God's plan of salvation, hands over to the Father the spotless victim who on Calvary, with the shedding of His own blood, expiates the sins of the whole world.

Jesus is our only hope. He alone can rid us of the filth of sin.

The new English translation of the Roman Missal renders the Collect of today's Mass thus:
 
"Almighty ever-living God, we humbly implore your majesty that, just as your Only Begotten Son was presented on this day in the Temple in the substance of our flesh, so, by your grace, we may be presented to you with minds made pure."

Today is a good day to pray for the Church -- for all her members: bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful -- that our minds will be made pure. "Rid me, Jesus, of that filthy crust of sensual corruption which covers my heart, so that I can feel and readily follow the touches of the Paraclete on my soul." (The Way, 130)

 May Our Lady, Mary most pure, and St. Joseph, intercede for is.

Father G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is Pastor of Holy Innocents Church, Long Beach.

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